Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Conference Report:Tuesday

The final day of NUT Conference.

The day stared with a debate on the Executive Memorandum on Annual Conference. This is an alternative to a motion, that lays out detailed recommendations for changing the way Annual Conference is run.

The main changes in the memorandum dealt with the number of representatives each division can send, to reflect the fact that a number of merged divisions with very large membership currently go under-represented. Also it looked at the system for speakers' cards. Currently if you want to speak in the debate you are called in the order your card was put in. This means that activists who get up early in the Saturday morning before conference and go round and round in a queue get to speak, and in practice nobody else does ! Conference agreed to a system of randomising cards before the debate, and also placing them in Female-Male order to tackle the significant gender imbalance in speakers.

The debate continued from yesterday on Support for Local Associations and Divisions (the amendment that we had on the card vote was carried- as predicted by those who saw the show of hands !) Conference also debated the Economy, the Forced Primary Academies, and a motion entitled "A Woman's Place is in her Union"- which, like the memorandum also raised concerns about the (vast) under-representation of women members in certain areas of the union organsiation.

After the debate, Christine told the press:
"Women have long and proud history in the Trade Union movement. Women are also of course vital to the teaching profession and to the NUT. The majority of the NUT’s members are women. It is vital, therefore, that the views of women members are heard at all levels in the union. “We need to look at how we can continue to give women the confidence and opportunities to take up roles and responsibilities in the NUT"

The Unfinished Business section managed to work its way through those motions where debate had started, but not been concluded in time.

When debate was concluded, Julie Davies formally moved the adoption of the Annual Report- saying she was glad to be formally moving at conference for the last time. I'm not: Julie has been a great asset to the Executive, although as the Division Secretary for Haringey where Downhills Primary School parents are fighting "forced" academy, I'm sure she has enough to keep her busy !

A vote of thanks was given to Marilyn Harrop for her able conduct in the chair- delivered by two of her long-standing colleagues from the City of Sunderland NUT.

Finally, Christine Blower delivered her General Secretary's address, giving a passionate defence of the professionalism of teachers:
She gave the example- a real life example experienced by a delegate attending the conference- of how the inspection regime views real education:
"We have to win back the profession. We know what professional standards are. Our debate on Ofsted set the scene for a reinvigorated campaign for professional autonomy and an accountability framework in the interests of teachers and children. No-one, least of all the National Union of Teachers, ever said that teachers should not be accountable. We all know that, although it isn’t enough, a good deal of public money is spent on education so we do have to be accountable. But not to the kind of Ofsted trained ‘consultant’ who is brought in to schools ostensibly to support teachers.

Here’s an example: a consultant comes in to school and plans to see a Year 6 class. The teacher tells the consultant that she’s welcome to come in. The class will be in the library for 30 minutes. The class goes to the library, is well behaved and on task. What might you reasonably expect as feedback from such a session? 'Well done, that’s great, it’s nice to see a library being used by the children.' 'How nice to see children so engaged.' 'A library is such a great resource in a school, glad to see that children know how to use it.'

Well colleagues, think again. This is a person subject to Ofsted training with whom we are dealing. The feedback actually was:

'I’m not going to grade that lesson (who ever said she should have been going to anyway, by the way) as it would have been unsatisfactory. The children were just reading! Just reading, colleagues, how wide off the mark can these people be?"
Christine went on to list some of the barrage of attacks on our profession and professionalism, over just the first few weeks of the year:

" In the 55 school days from the beginning of the spring term to March 22nd, there have been around 20 unreasonable, carping, insulting and just plain wrong announcements or statements from the DfE or Ofsted to berate, belittle or undermine teachers.

And Michael Gove has the nerve to say that he wants to support teachers and encourage in the so-called brightest and best. And Schools’ Minister, Nick Gibb, says some of his best friends are teachers. I wonder what they talk about.

Anyway, I won’t go through all 20 but here is a sample:

January 4th – Mr Gove says that those who oppose the drive to academies are happy with failure and 'the enemies of promise'.

January 19th – Nick Gibb trying to bolster his ideological bid for universal synthetic phonics, which I might add, has been rejected in many places:

'Every week that goes by is another week that children are missing out on the best possible teaching of reading.'

February 9th – Michael Wilshaw: My view is that we have tolerated mediocrity for far too long – it has settled into the system.

Ofsted – March 2nd – I love this one: Not enough music in music lessons! (Perhaps they should have thought of that before music provision became the target of cuts year on year). By the way, this might be a good point at which to praise our Union for the involvement we have with Music for Youth. The performers we have had with us over Conference are just a small fraction of the enthusiastic and talented young people with whom Music for Youth works."

Christine loves her music (I recall John Dixon and I being coaxed into playing the piano at Stoke Rochford last year for Christine to lead carols) and today was no exception: conference was asked to sing along with (Billy Bragg's version- admittedly) of Woody Gutherie's Union Maid. (below)

After the close of Conference, the new Executive met to elect new Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the main committees. The Education Equalities and Professional Development Committee will be chaired by Alex Kenny, with Anne Swift and Robin Head as vice-chairs. Organising and Membership will be chaired by Roger King, with Patrick Murphy and Alan Rutter as vice chairs; Salaries, Superannuation and Conditions of Service will be chaired by Tony Tonks, with Eddie Ritson and ... as vice-chairs; and Resource Management will be chaired by Ian Grayson, with Amanda Martin and Nick Grant as vice-chairs. Jerry Glazier remains the chair of the Strategy and Finance Committee.

I was pleased to be elected to the Board of Stoke Rochford Hall- which will be a challenge for the coming year.

I left Torquay at 3.00, and will get back to Eastbourne by about half past nine. I must be mad...

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